This beautiful world looks even more beautiful to us because of artistes who show us the various colours of life around. There are different types of artistes in this world. Some are singers, dancers, painters, musicians and many more. But there are a few who are all-in-one. It has been a while that I have known this super-talented young man who is a well-known painter, a super-expressive dancer who specialises in the Maharashtrian folk dance of Lavni and also an accomplished singer. Meet Nilesh Auti.
Recently, in the heritage city of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, Jayant Yelulkar and Rasik Group, famous and popular for their contribution for art, had organised an annual Padwa Festival to promote tourism in the city. The huge open ground, mega sets and over 50,000 people in the audience – all waited for just one man who arrived draped in a long nine yard red sari and danced with effortless ease. And not just that while dancing, he even painted some important symbols of Ahmednagar, totally mesmerising the cheering audience who kept shouting – “once more, once more.”
I have known Nilesh for a few years now. I had always heard about his talent of dancing and painting but this was the first time I was watching it live. I must admit here that I too, like the audience, was totally blown away. There was hardly a second during the performance that I could take my eyes off his beautiful face and of course, his effortless and imaginative painting to match his dance steps which was picture perfect. After his show, I sat with Nilesh and asked him a few questions:
What made you take up Lavni?
I am a proud Marathi man so anything which is to do with the Maharashtrian culture is closest to my heart. I love Lavni for its earthiness; it is few of the expressive old folk dances of India filled with spice, beauty, lots of abhinaya and elegance yet simple to understand and open for interpretations. Lavni is known as a way of expressing human emotions, be it for a male or a female. It uses day-to-day life, relations, people and philosophies and presents it in a dance manner.
What does Lavni really mean to you?
To me, Lavni is not just a dance for entertainment but holds strong civic sense and when time comes, the dance form can talk about current affairs, system, ministries ,wars, environment, adhyatma, mythology and interconnections with human life and practicalities like any other folk forms. There are examples of Lavni been through all such and many more subjects and contributed in social causes like Independence of India from British. Long before the time of television, performing Lavni was a strong way of communication and had strong entertainment value. Hence, I fell in love with Lavni and its boldness, beauty, upfront nature, hotness, sophisticated style and realism. I strongly believe that all the dance forms are immortal and Lavni is one of the most popular among them we all know.
How was this performance different from your previous ones?
I have always either danced or painted on stage but this time it was special because I was performing a combination of dance and painting first time. This performance was done especially to promote Ahmednagar Tourism. For me, it was an experiment and a responsibility so it was technically challenging for me. I was doing a traditional dance but at the same time wanted to show the modernisation Ahmednagar is going through and the main attractions of the city. While dancing, I painted the historic Chand Bibi Ka Mahal, the famous windmills, Indian Military tanks and the airport, expected to be built soon. Doing all this together while I danced was tough but I am glad it was well-received.
How difficult is it to prepare and execute painting and dancing at the same time?
The idea of promoting tourism through dance and painting was risky plus it was difficult to blend the two. I did not want either of the two art forms to look mismatched or misbalanced and to add to the pressure was the huge gathering for the show. Each of my brush stroke on the canvas was pre-planned and the planning was indeed complicated. To get it all right, I tried different types of brushes and papers to get the set up right. I practiced almost a hundred times painting the same thing for couple of weeks and finally, it happened.
Do male dancers need to do special preparations to perform Lavni?
Performing Lavni dressed in a female avatar is a big responsibility. Hence, choreography plays a strong role. Understanding the intensity of the number and meanings through the characters which are mostly female and then gelling it with your own interpretations and right timing is important. Moreover, a man needs to be a strong observer and has to plan costumes, makeup and hair extra carefully. Then there are dos and don’ts to look apt and appealing on stage. One has to make conscious efforts to carry an authentic nine yard sari, a stylish hairstyle and jewellery. In short, a man has to make 10 times more effort.
What should a male dancer keep in mind if he wishes to take up Lavni?
It is most important to remember that Lavni is like storytelling but through expressions and stylish moves. Also a male dancer must not overdo the makeup or dressing up to show how convincing a female he can look. Focussing more on the dance always helps. Performing a dance like Lavni is very challenging for a man as compared to a woman, especially the feminine look and attitude. There should neither be a slip of the character nor the expression.
Your reactions on the stigma attached to a man dressing up as a woman and dancing?
Neither have I faced stigma nor have I ever bothered about it because for me, dressing up is a requirement for the performance rather than thinking about what people are saying. One can focus better on art because it is natural, positive and pure. Stigmas are judgements which can lead to negativity and take a person far from reality. I believe its people who admire and its again people attach stigmas. If a man can look as beautiful as a woman then there is no harm in dressing up and sharing it. We live in a gender equality world so whatever is beautiful must be shared.
What is the future of male Lavni dancers in a country like India where dance is still a hobby for many?
Many male Lavni dancers make their living with it. Shows like Bin Baykancha Tamasha (Show Without Women) is very famous. Renowned dancer Prakash Pawar and his talented team is doing great work in the field of Lavni. For me, male Lavni dancers were always there and they will be there in future too.
Artistes like Nilesh are very few who have the ability to win people’s hearts not just through their dance and painting but even through the way they bring the change and awareness to the society. Nilesh Auti has all the qualities of being a role model and I won’t be surprised that soon a Lavni male dancer will be looked upon like a Bollywood superstar.
Sandip Soparrkar is a World Book record holder and a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with National Achievement Award and two National Excellence Awards by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]